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Illustration

How to Create an Hourglass Icon in About an Hour

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With simple shapes, gradients, and vector textures, this simple tutorial will show beginning illustrators how to create an hourglass icon. There is a whole lot you can do without the Pen Tool. We'll be using Illustrator CS4 for this tutorial, but those of you with older version should be able to follow along as well. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Below is the final icon we will be working towards. Also, smaller versions of the icon are shown below in both textured and untextured formats as well. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.

Video Tutorial

I made a video for this as well.

Step 1

Create a new document that is 600px by 600px. Set up your grid as shown below. Also, make sure that the Show Grid and Snap To Grid are both turned on.

Step 2

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a 200px by 200px ellipse. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and grab the bottom most point of the ellipse. Press the Down Arrow key three times. Pull the handles in to angle-off the bottom as shown below. Also, place a copy of the shape off to the side of the artboard, which we'll use later.

Step 3

Hold down Alt and Drag a copy of the shape down, also hold Shift to constrain it as you drag. Grab the Rotate Tool (R), hold down Shift, and rotate the copy as shown below. Be sure the tips overlap, and then click Unite in the Pathfinder palette.

Step 4

Draw an Ellipse that is 280px wide by 60px height, and place as shown. Copy (Command + C) and Paste In Back (Command + B). Then hit the Down Arrow key three times. Use the Rectangle Tool to create a 280px by 30px rectangle below the top ellipse, but above the bottom ellipse. Grab the rectangle and bottom ellipse, then click Unite in the Pathfinder palette.

Step 5

Group the top ellipse and the newly united shape together. Alt-Drag a copy down while holding the Shift key to constrain the move, and place it as shown. Cut (Command + X) the group and Paste In Back (Command + B). Stretch the shape up to 110px tall. Use the Direct Select Tool (A) to select the bottom most point of the glass shape, then move it up 10px with the Up Arrow key.

Step 6

Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool to create three bars that are 20px wide by 390px in height and have a corner radius of 6px. Place the rectangles as shown, cut and paste behind other shapes as necessary. Now our hourglass figure is taking shape!

Step 7

To create the caps, we'll first create shapes similar to what we made in Step 4. Make these shapes the same width as the bars, which is 20px wide and keep the height short, as shown. After Uniting the bottom ellipse with the middle rectangle, place behind the top ellipse, and group the shapes, as shown. Copy and paste two copies over the other bars as well.

Step 8

Now let's work on creating the shapes for our sand. Back in Step 2, I mentioned placing a copy of the upside-down teardrop shape we had created. Go ahead and grab that shape now. Place another copy of it to the side of the Artboard, as we'll use this shape again later.

Make a Rectangle and place it as shown. Open the Pathfinder palette, and with the shapes selected hit Divide. Delete the Outer Shape, as shown. Finally, Ungroup the results.

Step 9

Grab the lower pointed shape, and place it inside the glass area of our hourglass. As long as your hourglass is centered on your document, you can Copy and Paste the shape, then Shift-drag to move vertically. This will make up the top portion of the sand.

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to adjust each point, as shown. If you have the Snap to Grid still turned on, then you can more easily control the alignment of the points. Grab the Ellipse Tool (L), and create an ellipse that is 180px wide by 40px height, and placed as shown.

Now Place the bottom sand shape, as shown. Then turn off Snap to Grid, and adjust Points and Point Handles Manually until the spacing from the glass edge looks similar to the sand above. Copy and paste the Ellipse from above and manually adjust the width until it overlaps the bottom sand shape as shown.

Let's go back up to the bottom point of the top sand. Use the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) to place two points at the bottom of the sand, just above the bottom most point, as shown. Now Drag the middle point down until it overlaps the top ellipse of the bottom sand. This is our falling sand shape.

Now go ahead and select everything and copy. Create a new layer called "shapes," paste this copy in that layer, then hide the layer. This is so we have a copy of all this, just in case.

Step 10

We can turn off the grid now, and then let's start coloring. With everything, except our hidden "shapes" layer selected, move into a layer named "color." We'll be using lot's of Illustrator's pre-made gradients for this. First, in the Swatches palette go to Open Swatches Library > Gradients > Metals.

Apply the Steel gradient to the shapes shown. As you can see, we'll need to adjust some of these a bit. Let's start at the top. Grab the top ellipse shape, and change the gradient as shown. We'll need to change the gradients Angle, remove some Gradient Slider Colors, and move some Gradient Sliders slightly.

Now let's adjust the side of the top. All we do here is change the Angle to 180. This places the darker part of the gradient toward the right side and the lighter side on the left.

Now let's work on the top caps. Change the top ellipse of the cap, as shown. Now adjust the side of the cap using the settings shown in the last image in the series below. Be sure to apply these gradient adjustments to all three top caps. You may want to lighten the colors in the left most cap a bit though.

Step 11

I'm going to leave the middle bars with the default Steel gradient. Feel free to change them if you want though. Let's work on the bottom steel area now.

Adjust the bottom ellipse gradient as shown, then adjust the bottom side gradient Angle to 180.

Copy the bottom ellipse and scale it to about the size shown, then apply the gradient adjustments shown as well. This creates a smooth indention in the base of the hourglass for the glass to rest on. We'll come back and add some shading here shortly.

Step 12

Now let's color in the glass and sand. Be sure to remove the Strokes as we color each shape. Now in the Swatches palette, go to Open Swatches Library > Gradients > Water. Apply Water 5 to the glass.

Now in the Swatches palette, go to Open Swatches Library > Gradients > Earthtones. Apply Earthtone 5 to the top and bottom ellipses, and set the gradient Angle to 60. Also, remove the stroke.

Apply Earthtone 5 to the top and bottom shapes shown, and set the gradient Angle to 120. Also, remove the stroke.

Step 13

As we work, it's common to need to make a few adjustments as we move along. In this case, I'm noticing that the falling sand is a bit too thin as it moves from the top to bottom glass areas. Go ahead and widen this a bit by selecting each point with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and moving with the Arrow keys.

Also, we'll be adding some shadows toward the bottom of the hourglass. So, move the glass and sand shapes up a bit with the Arrow keys to make room for this, after selecting the shapes. Go ahead and apply any other tweaks you feel are necessary.

Step 14

Let's add some shadows now. Copy (Command + V) the inner-bottom ellipse and Paste In Front (Command + F). Hold Shift to Constraint and shrink it down using the Selection Tool (V). Now apply a Radial Gradient that goes from light gray to dark gray, as shown.

Copy this gradient. Shrink it down, while constraining, and place a copy behind the bottom of each bar showing (only two bars show).

I placed the same shadow shapes below the caps at the top. You could apply more shading as you see fit as well.

Step 15

Let's add a few highlights. Since these rest above all our shapes, let's create a new layer for these. Call the new layer "highlights." Notice how our layer palette should look so far.

Back in Step 8, I mentioned placing a copy of the upside-down teardrop shape outside the Artboard. Go ahead and grab a copy to work with. Paste the copy into the "highlights" layer. Alt-drag a copy off. Then hold down Shift, and use the Selection Tool (A) to enlarge the copy and place as shown.

Open the Pathfinder palette, select both shapes, and press Minus Front. You'll be left with a half moon shape. Turn on the visibility of our "color layer and place the half moon shape as shown. Copy (Command + V) the top ellipse and side-top shapes, then Paste In Front (Command + F). Then using pathfinder Merge.

Select both shapes and press Minus Front in the Pathfinder palette. You'll be left with our top-left highlight shape.

Step 16

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw a small rectangle on the right side. Now select the top-right most point with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and use the Arrow key to move it down a bit. Do the same thing with the bottom-right point, but move it up a bit instead. This angles the rectangle according to the curve of the glass.

Step 17

Now let's make the bottom reflection shape. We'll use the top-left reflection shape to create the bottom-left one. Use the Rotate Tool (R) to rotate the shape slightly. Stretch the shape using the Selection Tool (V) and place as shown.

Copy the bottom most sand shape and paste over the shape we just created. Open the Pathfinder palette, make sure both shapes are selected, then Divide the shapes.

Now delete the left, right, and bottom shapes as shown. Grab the two remaining shapes and click Unite in the Pathfinder palette.

Step 18

Go ahead and remove the Stroke from the "highlights"" by hitting the Forward Slash key while the shapes are selected. Now we'll add transparency and gradients to the "highlights."

Select the highlight shape on the right and apply the transparency shown below. Now grab the top-left shape and apply the transparency and gradient shown. Also, apply a slightly different transparency and gradient to the bottom-left highlight.

Now we could stop here. It really depends on the style you're going for. We'll be dong a bit more to this hourglass icon in this tutorial though to give it a different feel. Let's move on and add some texture.

Step 19

We'll go ahead and place our textures within the "color" layer, which keeps things simple. First, in the Swatches palette go to Open Swatches Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. Also, open the Transparency palette.

Copy (Command + V) the top ellipse and Paste In Front (Command + F), then apply the Burlap texture to it. Also, set the Transparency to Color Burn with an Opacity of 15%.

Now Copy (Command + V) and Paste In Front (Command + F) the top-side shape, then apply the Burlap texture to it. Also, set the Transparency to Screen.

Select the left and right bars and apply the same texture and transparency effects as the top ellipse. For the back bar set the Transparency to 10% though.

Apply the same techniques (and the same settings) as the top-side ellipse to the bottom-side ellipse. Now apply the same technique (and the same settings) as the top ellipse to copies of the two bottom ellipses.

Step 20

Keep in mind, details matter! Let's apply some similar techniques to the top caps. Copy (Command + V) the top ellipse and Paste In Front (Command + F), then apply the Burlap texture to it. Also, set the Transparency to Color Dodge with an Opacity of 100%.

Even though details are important, the side face of the top caps are really small and applying a texture to it probably isn't needed, especially if you'll be using this icon at a small size. I'm going to go ahead and apply the same technique, and settings as the top ellipse, but drop the Transparency down to 60%. This is only necessary if your going to use this icon at a larger size.

Be sure to apply these techniques to all the top caps. The bottom image shows our results so far.

Step 21

Copy (Command + V) both of the sand ellipses and Paste in Front (Command + F). Apply the USGS 17 Sandy Dry Lake texture from the Basic Graphics_Textures set. Also, set the Transparency to Luminosity.

Select both the top and bottom lower sand shapes, then Copy (Command + V) them and Paste in Front (Command + F), but below the sand ellipse shapes. Now apply the USGS 17A Shifting Sand texture and Overlay, as shown.

Let's add some texture to the glass now, which will be placed above the sand as well. Copy (Command + V) the glass shape and Paste in Front (Command + F) of both the glass and sand shapes. Now apply the USGS 21 Intricate Surface with the Opacity set to Screen. Alright, we're almost done now!

Step 22

Create a new layer below all the others called "background." Place a Shape slightly bigger than our background using the Rectangle Tool (M). Add a Radial Gradient that goes from white to light gray to the square as shown.

Use the Ellipse Tool to create an ellipse on the "color" layer, behind all the shapes in that layer. Then give it a Radial Gradient that goes from Black to White, as shown. Now set the Transparency to Darken.

Conclusion

There is a lot you can do with Illustrator, even if you aren't great at drawing, or haven't mastered the Pen Tool yet. Just keep at it and make the best of the tools you feel comfortable with. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

The final image is below. Also, smaller versions of the icon are shown below in both textured and untextured formats.

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